Supply and demand

published April 26, 2015, The Standard

Here’s an interesting weekend activity.
 Try using the footbridges on the major intersections along EDSA. Start with the ones near North Avenue. As you look down onto the thoroughfare—and the pollution—below, and as you pass through the peddlers of various other goods, handkerchiefs, belts, socks, pants, hair accessories...mamon, peanuts, suman, sweet corn or its paler variety, you might notice men or young boys leaning against the railing.
 These men, or boys, would have on their hands five or six smartphones stacked against each other. They also have a bag slung across their torso, the bag presumably containing more of the same.
 “Miss, miss,” they would try to be discreet but would call your attention if they so much as see you looking their way. They would then present to you the various models of iPhone or Samsung, at significantly marked-down prices.
 They do not care if your real intention is to size them up or perhaps engage them in conversation, in a bid to find out where exactly they got their, ugh, supply.
 They cannot tell—and do not care—whether you’re really buying or just posing as one.
 Sure you can haggle, but you’re never going to get far. The both of you know that you are not going to get the same deal at a regular shop, even if you’ve been a loyal customer there for years. This is way, way cheaper, way beyond your dreams.
 In the end, you can decide to walk away from an attractive deal because nothing suits your fancy. Or you can call it what it is: Bentahan ng nakaw. (Marketplace of stolen goods.)
 You then wonder, as you look at the man with the stacked-up smartphones in his hands, was he the one who fished them out of somebody’s pocket, too? Or did he have an accomplice, a faster-moving buddy whose job it is to snatch phones from distracted persons and to run as far as he could?
* * *
 Of course, we only make that assumption. We do not know for a fact that these phones were swiped from some clueless person’s hands or taken from somebody’s bag. But how else are these vendors-on-the-bridge able to source their goods?
 And how else are they able to stay in business except for the fact that they do generate some trade standing there and looking at you like you had some sort of little secret?
 You then wonder if some people’s desire to acquire a branded smartphone, or at least to be seen with one, is so great as to cloud their better judgment. Talk about brand consciousness’ dark side.
 One cannot help imagining the various owners of that stack of phones on the man’s hand. Chances are, they are just like you -- working hard to earn a living and to reward themselves with occasional treats.
 Was the phone given as a present? Did they scrimp for months to be be able to afford that unit? What many things did they have to sacrifice just to give themselves something so valuable?
 Actually, even if they were not like you, even if the owners are really wealthy, that is still their possession and they are entitled to enjoy its use for however long they want.
 When have we gone so low as people that we would source our phone from the black market, just for the satisfaction of having something so trendy and so, ugh again, validating and confidence-boosting?
 Were we not taught to live within our means, use only what we can afford, and act on our desire for something better by working hard for it?
 In the end, looking at the various clusters of these peddlers on the bridge, we can only offer answers as to why they have been there for a long time.   
 Perhaps the authorities who can act on the matter are so high up and so out of touch that they don’t use the foot bridges or even know somebody who does. Hence, they do not even know that this market exists. 
 Perhaps the people that should enforce the law are acting as protectors, or worse, the first customers.
 Or perhaps, and this is the saddest, most fundamental answer, they continue to sell, because people continue to buy. It’s basic economics, after all.